Waking up

Do you know the feeling of waking up from a vivid dream, and your entire body is heavy with sleep, yet not really tired? A mistake I often make is to go back to sleep then, trusting my body tired for a while longer. But that is not it.

It feels as if your body has been tensing and untensing again and again during your dream and now, released from that dream, your body is almost floating. A strange sense of etherealness covers you as you wake up. You feel as if you have to recover and remember your body again. You find it laden with sensations, embodied emotions that you cannot give name or reason.

Most of the time you don’t get to experience this feeling for long, most days you’re awoken by an alarm clock and forced to get up, push your dreamheavy body into action and shut the off that alarm so that you can have just another moment of peace.
Of course, by then it is far too late, your dream has been shattered, it has disappeared into the depths of your mind. Your dreams are, as Jimi Hendrix sings, “Castles made of sand [that] melt into the sea… eventually.”

Having time to wake up on your own, taking time to recover your body ever so slowly, is one of the great luxuries of Sundays. But it wasn’t until last Sunday that I realised that this rising, floating towards the surface of your dream gives you a very quiet yet fulfilling way of coming to terms with your waking body and the suddenly abandoned dream.

Lying there, your body heavily laden with the fleeting residue of the images, emotions and sensations of a dream just passed, not just your mind remembers, but your entire body does. The sensation of flying is in the soles of your feet – not touching the ground, the feeling of intimacy rest in your arms still – with no one to embrace, the images of people you may have met just once surface – and their unknown facial expressions still make sense. All this the creations of your dream.

Everybody tends to dream, though not all remember their dreams as well as they could (or should). Most feel the sensations and vague emotions and images of dream past, others feel the dream so real, that he might doubt the reality to which he wakes. The most famous dream of ancient Chinese philosophy had just that effect upon its dreamer, Chuang Tzu:

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Tzu. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.

(Translated by Lin Yutang)

We wake, still butterflies: vividly remembering flying and fluttering, yet now unable to do so. The new, waking sensorial input of our body replace impressions left by the dream. As we once again become aware of our body, the memories of how our body acted and felt in the dream fade away. We cannot contain both man and butterfly for long.

That Sunday morning, I lay as I woke, associating freely, casually trying on different ideas, thoughts and feelings as one might try different shirts in a changing room, just to see if something in my waking memories would match those ever-fading butterflies of my dream.

In that way I might follow the stream of my dreams and carefully recover the castles of sand that washed away within. And finding these castles, I might, just possibly, find out what I dreamt that could awaken such feeling of otherness.

The dreams I hear told sound crystallized in the mind of the narrator. The dreams have gone stale with too much rational thought.
As far as I can tell, people often misjudge their dreams, and think that they can remember and understand their dreams as a whole immediately afterwards, indirectly filling the gaps to create a narrative that seems to be coherent. Dreams are very rarely coherent, at least that’s what I’ve found.

I think that that is often the trouble with the interpretation of dreams (especially the Freudian stuff): It is all about rationalizing, finding patterns and clearing up. Scouring the magic from the dream. Disciplining the dreams to a pattern of Greek myth and sexual drives.

Instead, try accessing it with that embodied knowledge of your dream that you wake up with. Feel the dream more than think it.

Dreams are meant to be felt, not necessarily understood.

Remembering the feelings you dream can help you to remember your own feelings, the importance of which is not to be understated.


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Hi Mr. A
– did you read the Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin ? something about the dreamer as a jellyfish, and waking up being like hitting a rocky beach…

Yeah, I’ve read that and found it to be an excellent book. Though I don’t remember that exact metaphor, it is quite fitting.

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